Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Hunts Point food workers complain about scrutiny from crime fighting agency

The day after Jonathan Sanchez was released from prison in 2010 after serving three years for a burglary, he walked into Down East Seafood in Hunts Point in the South Bronx and asked for a job, and a second chance. He got both.
“They’re picking on my employees,” Edward Taylor, the president of Down East Seafood, said, referring to the commission.
But now Mr. Sanchez must document the past he has tried to leave behind, in an 11-page application for a photo identification card issued by a city agency that is responsible for ferreting out organized crime. He is one of hundreds of food workers who have come under scrutiny in recent years by the agency, the New York City Business Integrity Commission, not because of any known ties to mob bosses but simply because they work for a company in Hunts Point.
The commission, which regulates the wholesale meat, seafood and produce markets operating on city-owned land in Hunts Point, has increasingly looked outside those markets to companies on private property nearby. Since 2009, the agency has registered 54 companies in the area adjoining the markets and has collected applications for background checks and identification cards from their employees.
The applications ask for detailed personal information, like the names and addresses of former spouses, every residence over the past decade and any criminal offenses or testimony given in criminal and civil investigations. If workers refuse to complete the applications or do not carry their identification cards, their employers can face heavy fines.
“This was my brand new start,” said Mr. Sanchez, 26, who makes $40,000 a year packing lobster orders.
Mr. Sanchez said he worried that his past crime will follow him from job to job and brand him as an ex-con. “I feel violated because I don’t think those things have to be asked,” he said. “I feel that it could stigmatize me.”
The applications have also raised concerns among recent immigrants who fear their information could be shared with other government agencies, and have drawn protests from many companies that see the requirements as an unnecessary burden. More than three dozen local companies voiced complaints about the commission last week at a meeting organized by the Greater Hunts Point Chamber of Commerce, which represents about 700 local businesses.
“When people hear this, they don’t want to move here,” said Josephine Infante, president of the chamber, who said the commission continued to perpetuate a negative image of Hunts Point. “They think there must be a criminal element here, when in fact the environment has truly changed.”
The commission, created in 2001 to consolidate earlier efforts to combat organized crime in the wholesale food markets, commercial garbage hauling and shipboard gambling, has long collected personal information about those working in the markets. The applications and other requirements have been a sore point for the Hunts Point wholesale produce market, which recently cited the commission’s regulatory efforts as a reason that it was unable to come to terms with the city on a new long-term lease.
Commission officials said they started focusing on workers outside the public markets in 2009, after a state court decision mandating equal treatment of companies inside and outside the market walls. They added that they stepped up their efforts this year after receiving an anonymous complaint that many companies had not complied with the registration and identification cards.
Shari C. Hyman, the commissioner of the Business Integrity Commission, said her agency sought to ensure a safe, fair and competitive business climate for all food companies in Hunts Point. Since 2011, the agency has closed three companies outside the markets with ties to the Genovese crime family, and a fourth company whose owner was found to have embezzled from a former employer.
“Requiring the application is a balancing act,” she said, “one that requires us to look at the information collected in the most narrowly focused way so that corruptive influences are kept at bay, business needs are met and a clear path to employment for those who need it most is provided.”
The commission charges each company $4,000 to register, which is good for three years, and an additional $100 per employee for the identification cards. Commission officials said the fees covered the cost of reviewing the applications and performing background investigations of the companies and their staffs.
At Il Forno, a bakery that paid $7,000 for its registration and identification cards, many of the workers said they were intimidated by all the questions about their backgrounds.
“It’s not right,” Ramon Eduardo, the owner, said. “They’re acting like immigration, but I think immigration would ask you less questions.”
Foster Maer, senior litigation counsel for LatinoJustice PRLDEF, which was formerly known as the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, said the commission had overstepped its authority. “They aren’t authorized to ask these incredibly invasive questions,” said Mr. Maer, who has written a letter on behalf of more than four dozen workers, calling on the commission to review and revise the applications.
Ms. Hyman said her agency did not ask about immigration status or share the information collected about workers, though it could be provided to law enforcement officials in limited and specific cases. She added that the agency did not automatically deny applications from those who had committed crimes, citing recent approvals for a company in which 15 percent of the workers had criminal records. Commission officials also said no company outside the markets had yet been fined for workers who did not submit applications or wear identification cards.
Even so, many workers said the detailed questions made them uncomfortable and put them in an embarrassing or awkward position. Allen Luke, 60, a sales manager at Down East Seafood who has been divorced since 1992, said his ex-wife would not want him to include her name and address in his application, as requested, because “her business is her business, and my business is mine.”
“I could understand if it was homeland security. But this is just a fish business. That’s all we do,” Mr. Luke said.
Edward Taylor, the president of Down East Seafood, said more than half of his 60 employees had told him they did not want to complete the application. A couple of them have even said they would instead quit.
Mr. Taylor, who had to answer similar questions himself to register the company, said he would not have moved to Hunts Point from Manhattan in 2005 if he had known about the commission. The company, which he started in 1990 with $500 borrowed from a friend, supplies more than 700 establishments, including Dean & DeLuca, the Harvard and Yale Clubs and the dining rooms at the United Nations.
“They’re picking on my employees,” he said. “I didn’t open my own company to have someone else tell me how to run it.” 



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